HERITAGE OTTAWA, By Leslie Maitland
The recent OMB ruling in favour of a developer's proposal to build new student housing in Sandy HIll points to certain weaknesses in our city's heritage protections.
The student housing project proposed for Laurier Avenue East involves significant impact to several strucutres on the City's Heritage Reference List. Structures on the List are considered to be of heritage interest to the City, but are not designated under the Ontario Heritage Act.
The OMB decision notes that the strongest argument advanced by the City of Ottawa in opposition to the proposed development is that the "subject property is designated Categories 2 or 3 on the City's Heritage Reference List, and as such is protected by the policies respecting heritage conservation."
The OMB decision also notes that the Heritage Reference List is a "document prepared by City staff” that has “never been adopted by City Council either by way of a by-law or by resolution. It is not a register within the definition of "built heritage resource".
In other words, the Heritage Reference List has no legal standing. Structures on the List have no protection and are at risk.
Changes are in order if Ottawa is to protect its heritage assets.
The Heritage Reference List needs to be thoroughly reviewed, updated and adopted by City Council, either by way of a by-law or resolution.
Furthermore, the mandate of the Built Heritage Subcommittee needs to be expanded to all municipal heritage matters affecting Ottawa. The BHSC is presently limited to comment on matters falling under the Ontario Heritage Act, and was therefore denied the opportunity to comment on this proposal. If BHSC isn’t part of the discussion, Council is not getting all of the advice that it needs on heritage issues.
Councillor Tobi Nussbaum, the new chair of the BHSC, has committed to revising the BHSC mandate.
Heritage Ottawa looks forward a more comprehensive mandate for the BHSC, and to improvements to the Heritage Reference List.
The most effective heritage protection is proactive, not reactive. Let’s make sure that our tools and legislation are up to the task of preserving Ottawa’s worthy heritage assets for future generations.